He was hot and bothered and his sleep tunic was drowned in sweat. It was no good just lying there. It would be better to get up. Maybe even take a shower.
He got out of bed and stripped the sheets off. He didn't want to activate the droid. He would leave that until the morning. It was the middle of the night and he needed some more sleep.
He decided to have a drink of house water. It wasn't often he did that. There was so much more to choose from. The trouble was, he couldn't decide what. So water it was to be. At least it was filtered and purified. And tasted of absolutely nothing.
There was a delay before the water came out of the faucet. The plumbing whirred and clicked almost like a dataserve that was thinking. That must be its filtering process. He remembered what it had been like getting cave water in the cave apartment when he was younger. No such complex filtering process there though the diastics had been good. This was so snazzy compared with that though even so.
That word again. And it had been in his dream as well. This wasn't going away.
He finished the water, quickly stripped off his sleep tunic and ran a shower. Soon the warm water was cascading over his shoulders. That felt good.
Then he helped himself to a clean sleep tunic. Nothing snazzy in that drawer. Just a set of six identical tunics. Snazzy might have been good.
He pulled on the tunic. Well, at least he felt refreshed now.
He climbed back into bed and hoped he would sleep soundly until the morning.
It was a peculiar place he was in now. He recognised it. Or at least, he could define it. A good name for it would be Snazz Land. Everything was larger and more colourful than normal. Everything seemed like a stereotype of itself. He was in some sort of opening in woodland. He touched a nearby tree. It felt real enough. No, actually it felt more than real.
The colours were dazzling. The green of the leaves contrasted with the brown of the bark more than he'd ever seen before. It was almost like a child's painting. Was this a cartoon world he was in? No, it was three dimensional enough. But it didn't seem quite real. He touched a leaf again. Oh yes, it was real.
The air seemed fresher, cooler, and softer than normal as it brushed against his face.
The grass smelt green.
He looked down at the path beneath his feet. It was paved. Man-made. Or at least, made by some sort of conscious being. Could it have been built by a form of artificial intelligence? Had something tried too hard? He bent down to touch it. Yes. It was really solid. Then he touched the grass next to it. Very soft and slightly damp. A stark contrast.
So why was he so certain that this was Snazz Land? Was there actually such a place? He was dreaming again, surely? Was it a good name for this place?
Exaggeration was part of it wasn't it?
He started walking along the path. Hopefully he would soon come across some people and some buildings.
He hadn't gone very far before they all started arriving. It was if he wasn't there though. Nobody got eye contact with him. He tried greeting them but they just kept their eyes fixed on where they were going. Was he invisible?
Yes, these people all looked madly eccentric but actually this was the norm here. Nobody stood out. He looked down at what he was wearing. Just a plain old grey tunic. Did he stand out for being ordinary? Not that anybody was looking at him as far as he could tell.
Then he saw the woman with the weird dog. She seemed dramatic enough. She wore a high red turban and a vast coat to match. As she walked the coat swirled around her. The dog was a peculiar little thing. It had very short legs and a long body. It looked like a sausage on legs. Its coat was made of strips of material in really vibrant colours, as if his back was a paint pallet. The dog stopped and sniffed Kaleem's leg. So, he was visible, then? Or at least sniffable. The woman tugged on the dog's lead, though, and they were soon out of sight.
Next came a couple of buffoons. No one dared dress like that did they? Not in ordinary life, surely? The young man had a huge collar on his tunic. The girl had long spikes where the heels should be on her shoes. They both had painted faces. They giggled as they walked past him. Had they actually seen him? That would surely make them titter. He looked odd because he looked ordinary.
Then came a young girl all dressed in green. She wore no leggings and her tunic had layers of material under it, making it stand out. Her cloak, made of a crushed, furry material came down to the ground. On her head was a tall pointed hat. Her shoes sparkled. She carried a long stick with which she drew circles in the air. "A spell for me, a spell for you," she muttered as she hurried past Kaleem without apparently seeing him.
So they were all walking in the opposite direction from him. Yet he felt he was going the right way. There were others in front of him, a long way ahead. He looked behind. In the distance as well people were following him. Well, walking in the same direction at least.
And yes. He could see now that he was approaching something that looked like a village. A town even? Buildings definitely.
Were they snazzy? Dazzling coloured outfits here and there. Not ordinary tunics and leggings anywhere. Brightly painted faces. And shoes. So many different shoes. At least nobody seemed to see him. So perhaps he still didn't look extraordinary to them.
He came to what was obviously a café. There was the familiar sound of a coffee machine. Kaleem stared in through the window. The decor was bizarre. Huge over-stuffed, ludicrously-coloured comfisessels - which seemed to be remaining stationery. Thick cotton rags as carpeting and walls lined with what must be cork board. He had heard about this material and seen pictures but never seen it for real. This looked like the actual thing. He wanted to go in and touch it. The customers were drinking from tubes that swirled around the cups several times. It didn't look very comfortable.
Loud music was coming from the building next door. Was that jazz? He'd heard that before. He rather liked it, in fact. Worth investigating?
He ambled in.
At first glance it was just like any bar he'd been in before. Naturally that had included a lot of variety because his work took him all over the place. Here though there was even a fairly normal-looking droid serving. The music was superb. Like nothing he'd heard before.
"Can I serve you, sir?"
"A frega, please."
The droid didn't hesitate and soon Kaleem was sipping the familiar Zandrian drink. How did they know about that here? Where was he, in fact? How come the droid could hear and see him but the others didn't seem to? A couple even approached his table. They did turn away at the last moment but they still didn't seem to see him.
The music was superb. Perhaps that was what was so "snazzy". He'd never heard it played live like this before. It was mesmerising. The notes seemed to tumble over each other. It sounded like silk felt next to the skin. It was refreshing like water from a cool waterfall. The players were moving with it. He could feel it through his whole body. But then he started to feel uncomfortable.
Was he imagining it or was the frega a little stronger than usual? Was his vision becoming blurred? He hadn't even drunk half of it. He needed to get out of there.
He staggered out towards the door. The cool air hit him and suddenly he was wide awake and alert.
He noticed that opposite there was an entrance to what looked like a park. It seemed warm enough. Wherever he was had a more stable climate than Zandra, clearly. He set off along a path that led to a wooded area. Those trees looked just like Terrestran ones. But he'd never noticed any "snazziness" on Terrestra before.
He came to a clearing. Now there was a more formal garden. Four benches surrounded a fountain. He sat down. The tinkling of the water was soothing. But where were all the people now? That was odd as well. It wasn't water in the fountain after all but lots of tiny beads of some hard material.
He became almost memorised by the sound. Then, though, there was another sound over the top off it. Heeled shoes walking on a hard surface? Was someone else coming along the path? He tried to see but now a curious mist hung over the park. He looked in one direction and then another. Every time he turned his head the footsteps stopped for a few seconds and then started again. If there was really someone there, they must be watching him, wherever they were. But how could they see him if he couldn't see them? It didn't make sense.
The mist cleared suddenly. Coming towards him along the path opposite was - a man, he thought. He was bizarrely dressed. He wore no tunic but some sort of short jacket with another jacket over the top. His leggings were wide and flapped as if moved by a breeze. He wore a copper-coloured hat that had seven spikes sticking out from it.
He moved straight towards Kaleem. Then he was standing in front of him. He looked directly into Kaleem's eyes.
Kaleem felt odd. He had the disturbing impression that he was looking at himself. But this stranger was nothing like him. His hair was white- what there was of it. It had mainly been shaved off. He had the beginnings of a beard and moustache. His left cheek was decorated with a red patch that blended into a green one above on his forehead. His left eyelid was shaded red and his right one blue. His jacket, which from a distance had looked as if it was made from the same material as his trousers, was actually very silky and covered in a monochrome pattern of roses. His boots had a short heel, which explained the noise Kaleem had heard on the path.
"We've been expecting you. Good to meet you again."
Again? Well, yes, Kaleem did feel as if he knew him, but he couldn't think where from.
The stranger laughed. "You can't remember who I am, can you?"
Kaleem shrugged. "Sorry, no. But I'm sure I should."
The man laughed again. "Oh, yes, you most certainly should." He cocked his head on one side. "Would it help if I told you my name was Meelak?"
"Meelak?" Meelak? That was familiar too. Of course!
"Yes, my friend, I think you have it. Your own name backwards." He chuckled. "Oh, but you don't understand why."
"No, I don't. Are you going to explain?"
"Perhaps." Meelak smirked. Then he started whistling. He finished his little tune and grinned at Kaleem. "It's just that I am you and you are me."
"I don't understand."
"I am another aspect of you. The snazzy one."
He must be dreaming again.
"Oh, no doubt you are, my friend."
What? He could read his mind as well?
Meelak nodded. "Yes, that too. But it's not really mind-reading because we are one and the same person." Suddenly Kaleem was wearing the odd clothes. He could feel the hat on his head and he was staring at himself. How boring and conventional he was. Then he was back in his own body, looking at Meelak. How crazy he was.
Meelak winked at him. "Yes, I can read your mind for sure. And yes this is a dream. Kind of. You'll probably understand more when you wake up. But I'm here to help."
"How can you help?"
Meelak smiled again. His eyes teased Kaleem. "You must always remember the fun side. The snazzy side. Stop being so serious all the time." He waved his hand in the air.
The fountain disappeared and in its place stood a small bush. Silver-coloured fruits with blue pips on them hung from the branches. Meelak plucked two. He put one into his own mouth and handed the second one to Kaleem. "Eat and enjoy."
Kaleem took the fruit and began to eat it. It was sweet and salty at the same time. The taste kept changing, however. In turn it tasted of all the fruits he'd ever eaten.
"Remember to call on me when you want help. Snazz is good - sometimes. But like with these fruits, too much can be harmful. We'll leave you now."
The mist returned. Kaleem's feet were no longer touching the ground. He felt dizzy and it seemed as if he was falling.
The dizziness got worse and soon he felt sick as well. Would this ever stop? Would he ever wake up? He was moving faster and faster and he thought his ears were going to burst. He tried to call for Meelak but he felt so nauseous he couldn't even form a proper thought.
Then came the jolt. Once more he was in his own bed.
Another dream, then. Yet this time he didn't feel as if he had been asleep. He was exhausted. There had been so much to take in in that snazzy land. Where was it though? If that had been a dream was it based on a place he already knew? He went through every place he could think of. Mm. There had been Terrestran trees and Zandrian frega. Jazz from early Terrestra. Meelak had been at once very familiar and very strange.
"Time," he commanded the dataserve. "Zandrian time: 09.00. Do you wish to commence morning routines?"
"Yes please." He didn't really want to. He would rather go back to sleep but he thought better of it. He needed to get this day started. "Deliver breakfast to the drawer, please. Fruit juice of the day, breads and spreads, coffee."
As he showered he thought of all he had learnt about snazz. Was it about being different, being brighter? Was Meelak real or just part of the dream? Could snazz be snazz if everybody was snazzy? If everybody was snazzy did ordinary become snazzy?
He felt a little more awake and actually quite hungry after he'd showered. He was pleased to see when he went into the kitchen that his draw delivery had arrived.
He opened it and there it all was. The coffee was steaming so was probably good and hot. But what was this? He took out a small blue stick. It felt silky to his touch and stained his fingers. What was it doing there? He knew what he must do, though.
He went back into his bathroom. His tongue stuck out as he concentrated but it didn't take him long to achieve what he was aiming at. He grinned at himself. Yes, the shading on his right eye was perfect.
It had been five days now since Kaleem had boarded the supercraft. He was getting used to its routines and rhythms. Naturally he's been on a supercraft before but each one was different. They made improvements all the time. This was just about the very newest produced on Zandra.
He sat by one of the huge veriglass windows and stared into space. There were so many more colours and variances in the light than you saw from static pictures. Yes, he was used to travelling this way but he'd never quite got used to how breath-taking space could be. Zandra was well behind them now and they'd not passed too closely to any other planets. He wondered whether Rozia and Petri would enjoy the approach to Terrestra. That always looked so remarkable as you got nearer to it. It was the most beautiful planet he'd ever seen, like a marble with its blue and white swirls. The blueness came from its oceans.
The sessel on this particular supercraft were especially luxurious. The food and drink were better than ever. He'd managed to get plenty of work done. His Zenoton was in good form and he was beginning to get some insight into Exton's psycho. He'd even managed to communicate with Clem a couple of times without their connection being noticed. He was pleased with his work so far.
Yet there were worries and he shouldn't be complacent. What would happen when they got to Exton's barrier? Were they going to come clean about who Kaleem was and what his mission involved? Did they even actually understand, the people who were sending him there, that his must be a peaceful mission?
A young man about his own age approached him. "May I join you?"
Kaleem nodded. "Please do." It was always interesting and often useful speaking to other people.
"How are you finding the trip? Is everything satisfactory? I’m D-Ken-Maloney, by the way. I know that you are Peace Child Kaleem Malkendy."
D-Ken-Maloney? This was a droid? That was something else about this supercraft. It had the most sophisticated droids. They were impressive if a little disturbing. Kaleem had watched hundreds of old fictional videos of artificial intelligence clashing with and taking over from humans. It hadn't actually happened yet, though these specimens here looked as if they might.
"Is anything wrong?" asked the droid.
"No. I just find it's hard to believe you're a droid."
Ken Maloney chuckled. "Yes, the technology is impressive, isn't it? Don't worry, though, the ethics remain. We are programmed never to injure a human being or allow one to come to harm through our inaction. We will obey humans. We will protect our own existence – as long as that doesn't conflict with the other protocols. Asimov is still revered."
"But you reason? Do you have emotions as well? Are you ever afraid, or jealous, or do you ever want something?"
This was a little crazy. He was using Peace Child tactics on a droid.
"We simulate those actions to gain better communication with humans but we feel nothing. We are just machines. You can switch us off at any moment you choose."
The words "switch off" made Kaleem shudder. He'd fought compulsory euthanasia for older Terrestrans in the past. He'd won and the practice had been abandoned. It still bothered him that it had ever existed.
The droid back sat back in its sessel, crossed its legs and placed its fingers on its lips. "So, is there anything I can help you with?"
"Okay. So, this Pangwit Exton is about the same age as us. Why does he want to take the Zenotons back to a monetary system?"
Ken Maloney chuckled again. "Well, I'm actually just three months old, but yes, indeed, I've been programmed to act like a twenty-six year old humanoid. Don't we young people think we can rule the world? Aren't we fed up with what the older generation has done?"
"Well I certainly don't want to rule the world. Too much responsibility."
"Ah, you are wise beyond your years."
"Maybe. But shouldn't he perhaps think of being even more revolutionary with the Zenoton system? Couldn't he roll it out to other parts of the world? Wouldn't he make his name that way?"
"We're young. We want quick results. We want to be modern."
"And what about the barrier?"
"A sign of our inadequacy. We young people seek control."
Kaleem sighed. "Maybe you're right."
"Glad to have been of service." The droid stood up. Was there perhaps a little droid-like stiffness in his manner after all? He was certainly quite formal. "Do call me up if you need further assistance. My call sign has been programmed into your communicator."
So, a droid was talking a lot of sense.
Kaleem thought about Zenoto. He'd been very well treated when he was there – after an initial period of them testing him to see if he could be trusted. There was always the argument, wasn't there, that people wouldn't be motivated to work if they never had to pay for anything. This had never seemed a problem on Zenoto. People had enjoyed working and did it well. Of course they had a good supply of droids for the more menial tasks. That was sensible. Also he had been very well vetted before he was allowed on the planet. So, did Exton have a point with his barrier?
The Zandrians were worried, too, about their health care system that was open to anyone in the world and was usually free. Health tourists they called them, the people who came just to use the medical facilities. There was so much fear, now, that these facilities would run out for the Zandrians themselves. Terrestrans had handled the problem the other way. They'd tried to keep people healthy. They'd done that by keeping everybody out. Oh yes, he'd been the first person to be ill in centuries. Yet his very illness had put him and Terrestra in contact with the rest of the universe.
Zenoto was beautiful, though. In contrast to Terrestra's blueness, Zenoto was mainly a deep red with splashes of emerald green, lemony yellow and pale blue as you approached it in a supercraft. Zenoton technology was more advanced than Terrestran or Zandrian. Everything was more sophisticated. Household furnishings were more elegant and more comfortable. Odd, how Zenotons showed more respect to droids. They were almost friendly to them. He also remembered the dramatic view from Rogin's apartment. On one side were snow-capped mountains and below them was rich green meadowland. In the distance a green sea's waves caught the light of Zenoto's sun. Intriguing too how Rogin had explained that his work seemed more to him like he imagined a hobby would to a Terrestran. Well. This Peace Child business didn't seem much like a hobby to Kaleem though he took pride in his work and often enjoyed it. At times, though, it was terrifying.
He'd tried the Zenoton form of "shopping" and it worked. Shopping seemed more like a leisure activity on Zenoto. The Zenotons didn't get just what they needed. They looked for things that were beautiful and that gave them joy. The shops were inviting. Yet you were carefully questioned about your choices. Some really deep instinct seemed to be at work. It was almost as if the object wanted you as much as you wanted it. He remembered the exquisite brooch that had the black Tulpen and red roses in a holograph. Flowers of love and lust, Pendalon, the merchant had said. The work that had gone into that brooch was amazing. It was tragic, though, how Zarifi, the designer had died. He couldn't find a balance between work and relaxation and he'd worked towards perfection in creating this brooch. He'd actually imported the seeds for these flowers that didn't grow on Zenoto. He'd had to make several attempts at growing them before he found specimens good enough to photograph. A fault in the system, perhaps, but otherwise everything worked well on Zenoto. It was luxurious and everyone took pride in their work. Now, he couldn't understand why Exton wanted this all to stop, even if he now had some sympathy for the barrier.
Kaleem had not managed to give the brooch to Rozia. It was now safely tucked away in the luggage he had brought on board. He still hoped that one day it might lead somewhere.
He was woken from his day-dreaming by someone clearing their throat. He looked up. It was another young man, maybe a little older than himself. He was definitely not a droid, though, this time; he wore the unmistakable taupe silky tunic of a supercraft's senior officer.
"We just wanted to check that everything was in order, sir," said the young man.
Sir? For goodness sake. "Well, yes of course it is. Why shouldn't it be?" Everything was absolutely fine on this supercraft. He totally trusted the people driving and managing it. There was a bonus, too this time – a level of luxury he'd never experienced before whilst travelling.
"We just like to be certain. Would you like a tour of the operational areas?"
Now that would be interesting. "Yes, please. But what should I call you?"
"My name is Kendrick Manton, sir."
"Drop the sir. It's just Kaleem."
"And then I am Kendrick."
The tour was fascinating. Kendrick explained a lot to him about the technology. It was difficult to grasp it all. He understood things that Kendrick explained to him for a few moments and then when he went on to the next thing what he'd heard just before was gone.
Kaleem loved his enthusiasm, though. Kendrick was so excited about everything.
"And these pipes feed in the fuel that we recycle five times before sending it to waste. So, we use only a fifth of the fuel that used to be needed. You can imagine how much cheaper that makes a trip by supercraft."
Kaleem noticed that the engine room smelt almost like syrup and certainly didn't have the burning smell he'd experienced before when he'd been near a supercraft's engine. "It's a different sort of fuel, isn't it?"
"Yes. That's also a factor. It's actually sugar based."
"Notice something else?"
Kaleem shook his head.
"It's much quieter than the older supercrafts."
Yes, it was. There was just a little buzz instead of the more normal loud chugga-chug.
"All so much cleaner and safer."
"It's all really good. I just hope I'll be as successful in what I have to do as you're being with this craft".
"I'm sure you will. Of course, we'll need your skills when we get nearer to Zenoto. To negotiate our way across the barrier."
Ah yes. That. "I'll do my best."
"Well, you'll have a very good communication system to help you with that. Here's our communication deck."
Kendrick showed him into another area of the operational floor. There was the normal array of screens and dataserves and twenty or so technicians busily operating them.
"The difference this time is that we always holo people up. And the definition is really convincing. Look." Kendrick pointed to where a young Zandrian woman was talking to a Terrestran. "Can you tell which is the real one?"
"It's actually the Zandrian. She's our crew member – in civvies. We always wear ordinary clothes to communicate."
It really was astounding. He could even smell two different perfumes. He wanted to touch the Terrestran.
"Come on," said Kendrick. "Let me introduce you." He walked over to where the two women were talking. "Excuse me. May I introduce our VIP, Kaleem Malkendy, Peace Child."
Kaleem stretched his hand out to offer the Terrestran handshake. The Terrestran smiled as she accepted it. "Amazing isn't it?" It certainly was. He could feel her hand warm in his own.
Kendrick showed him a few more items and then Kaleem returned to his cabin, quite exhausted after such an intense tour. It was good though, to see someone so committed about his work. He'd appreciated how joyful Kendrick had been about everything.
Something was stirring at the back of Kaleem's mind. A story he'd read. Yes, actually read. Old technology then, but it still had something to say. What was it called? There had been something about Kendrick that he had understood so well. The technology was mainly beyond him but Kaleem could understand his attitude. It reminded him of his father who never tired of working with plants – and they could be quite difficult on Zandra.
He'd recognised something in Kendrick. It was as if – what was that expression? Something about "walking"?
He commanded the dataserve to search for something about "walking" and "understanding others".
The machine responded faster than anything else he'd ever known. Another good feature of this craft. Fantastic technology. Much better than anything he'd seen before. "We'll probably need Wordtext. It's a very old story I'm looking for," he said.
The machine paused for a fraction of a second. The screen lit up. A picture of a young girl staring at the moon appeared. Some said "walk a mile". You couldn't really know someone unless you walked at least a mile in their shoes. A mile was an old Terrestran measurement. It was almost two kilometres. He remembered from somewhere that 'moon' could sometimes mean 'month' i.e. 30 / 31 Terrestran days. The "in another man's shoes" was understood this time.
Should he try to do that with Exton?
He started reading the story.
Just over two hours later he had finished. Goodness, there was a lot in this. It dealt with grief, death, loss, cultural identity, women as wives and mothers, the hardships of life and what the consequences were when there were misunderstandings. They really did learn to "walk two miles in another man's moccasins". The writer had found this saying in a biscuit she ate at the end of meal. Fortune cookies they were called, apparently.
Exton, then. Why was he being the way he was? Kaleem realised the Zenoton president was passionate and daring. He really believed that what he was proposing was right for his planet. Everyone thought they were right, didn't they? Kaleem realised he was going to have to use all of his Peace Child strategies to find out why Exton thought that way.
Peace Child! What was a Peace Child supposed to do?
"Search on "Peace Child"," he commanded the dataserve.
"Still in Wordtext?"
"Yes." He knew the expression had originated in the 20th or 21st century on Terrestra. He'd often looked at this old material. Here it was again. Warring tribes exchanged a child when the peace was established. The child came from the culture of one tribe and lived with the other. So, then the child understood both cultures and could act as a diplomat for both sides. It prolonged the peace. Yes, that was what he had to do. He even had to establish it in the first place.
Not a lot then.
Someone buzzed at his door. The door screen showed a Zandrian droid standing there. Kaleem activated the lock. The droid entered his cabin.
"Your presence is required at a meeting with Janice Wilton, Patrick Tyler, Jadee Elliott and Rogery Mentis." What would that be about? Why did a politics expert, the outward affairs junior executive, the special correspondent for Zenoto and a futurologist want with him? And why had they sent a droid? "Why didn't they just use their communicators?"
"Because you have been known to ignore them, sir."
How true. He would certainly have ignored anyone who had tried to interrupt his studies that morning. His work was much more important than anything they had to say.
"When and where?"
About the Peace Child Series:
Everything about Kaleem marks him out form the rest: the blond hair and dark skin, the uncomfortable cave where he lives and the fact that he doesn’t know his father. He’s used to unwelcome attention, but even so he’d feel better if some strange old man didn’t keep following him around.
That man introduces himself and begins to explain the Babel Prophecy – and everything in Kaleem’s life changes forever.
Gill James is published by The Red Telephone, Butterfly and Chapeltown.
She edits CafeLit.
She writes for the online community news magazine: Talking About My Generation
She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing and has an MA in Writing for Children and PhD in Creative and Critical Writing
See other episodes: https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/search/label/The%20House%20of%20Clementine